From the Desk of Fr. Francis – January, 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!

The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

finding-in-the-temple-JosephThe first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospels set a scene that might leave some people a little perplexed. Jesus comes across acting like an arrogant adolescent. He seems to be asserting His independence now that the community considers this twelve year old boy a man. He appears to be doing “His own thing”. His parents – Mary, His Mother and Joseph, His Messianic Father – anguished three days looking for Him. Eventually finding Him in the Temple, His Mother asks why…why did He remain in Jerusalem, why didn’t He ask them, why did He allow them to feel such anguish? Jesus’ response would probably make some parents quite annoyed, to say the least. Rather than apologize, His response is: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house? It almost seems as though Jesus makes his parents’ presence in His life insignificant. These must have been difficult words for His loving parents to hear. In any case, the Gospel tells us that He obediently went to Nazareth with them (Mary and Joseph) and was subject to them.

Some have explained this episode with a spirituality that places the twelve year old Jesus already beginning His public ministry. I would rather see the moment as a normal family situation concerning parents and adolescents. Whatever the fact, there is food for reflection in this event in the life of the Holy Family. This challenging family moment offered the members of the Holy Family the opportunity to assess the role that each one in the family was called to fulfill, including Jesus, and they would fulfill their roles faithfully. Obedience would be the key word and virtue; this obedience was the fruit of a Love that no other family has ever or will ever experience.

Love helps us to hear those words, Why were you looking for Me?, in a totally different sense. These words are not as arrogant or as insubordinate as they may seem at first. Hidden within the person of Jesus that everyone saw, was the majesty of the divinity that others would have to discover and either accept or reject over a period of thirty years. The Omniscient God Incarnate still needed to experience the learning process of human nature. The harmony of natures in Jesus would still be a mystery, and also a difficulty at times for those who knew Him; while for Jesus both natures were in harmony and worked together.

One thing was certain: this unique solitary life had begun a journey among His own. And, as St. John tells us, His own did not receive Him. We all reflected upon that fact several weeks ago when there was no room in the inn but a refuge used for animals, when Herod sought to kill rather than venerate the Infant King, when a secure homestead was a foreign country with foreign gods rather than the Great God of Israel His Father, and when return to familiar surroundings demanded that the family resettle in a town not their own. Why were (are) you looking for me? is a question that is constantly posed to us. Whom do we seek? What are we searching for in Jesus? Is He Who He really is for us, or have we made Him to our own image?! A question to ponder that poses a powerful reflection: Do we believe what we believe to be really real?!

From the very beginning many believed in His goodness but not in His God-ness. That He was a great human being was undeniable for many, but that He was God was denied by a group, beyond the group of the early Jewish leaders of Jesus’ times, and whose ideas live on today – the Arians.

Arianism denied the divinity of Jesus the Christ. In so doing, everything He said and did could be reduced to a pick-and-choose relationship with Jesus. Since He is not divine, you are invited to follow his teaching but can also dissent or reject what He proposes as what leads to Eternal Life. He is reduced to someone no different than Buddha, Confucius, or even Ziggy in the comics. The absurdity of it all is overwhelming! Yet that is what so many, even some Catholics, seem to adhere to and profess in their way of life. Jesus is a matter of opinion, a choice to be bartered with, a majority vote on issues of major importance, a guru that leads us into an anonymous mass of watered down expressions of religion without faith. The “spirituality” they profess has themselves as the center, whether they realize it or not, and not Christ.

What I have just stated sounds harsh and even critical. Well, it is intended to be! Unless Jesus takes over our lives and we allow Him the first place in our hearts, thoughts, words and actions, anything we do as Christians just makes no sense.

The following phrase found in an old meditation book offers good food for thought: Beware of your thoughts, they become your words. Beware of your words, they become your actions. Beware of your actions, they become your character … beware of your character, it becomes your destiny. We were imprinted with the character of the Holy Spirit Who inspires us and urges us on to listen to Jesus and believe in Him as the Only-begotten Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered, died and rose from the dead. And Who now is with the Father in glory and Who will judge creation. How we allow that thought to take hold of our hearts will determine how we allow the character with which we have been sealed to take hold of our lives.

St. Francis de Sales reminds us that we will steer safely through every storm as long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed firmly on God. We are called to be lights who let their light shine before all. We are beacons of prayer shedding the light of faith wherever we gather. Prayer, Eucharist, and Meditation play an essential part in the life of all, and even more so for those professed to our Franciscan Life. The celebration and adoration of the Eucharist keep our hearts reconfirmed in our belief in Jesus as God enfleshed in humanity; the Eucharistic Lord raises our frail human nature to a level that offers it a share in the divine. Prayer maintains our intentions alive and encourages us to move forward on faith’s journey, trusting in a God who loved us into life and is all-loving and all-providing for life’s journey. Our group and/or personal reflections remind us of and rekindle within us our trust in God on Whom we now have firmly fixed our gaze so as never to lose sight of Him.

Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house? This question came from One Who was so present to the Father that He could not imagine anyone not realizing that the Temple was where He would naturally be. Where are we naturally, with our minds, hearts, desires..?

Living in the Spirit of God, our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi always lived in the presence of the One Who had called him. His life exuded the divine. The ultimate sharing in the life of Jesus the Suffering Servant when St. Francis received the Sacred Stigmata of the Passion of Christ was a confirmation of one who truly and firmly believed all he professed to be really real. He believed the One Whom he served. He believed in Him as God-Man, and he believed Him, His every word, precisely because he believed He is God enfleshed in nature. This natural composure of the Poverello of Assisi was the magnet that attracted so many to him.

It may seem strange that I belabor this issue, but I truly believe that it is necessary. Many believing Christians have distorted the image of Jesus to fit their own needs. Jesus is seen and revered as the holy mascot of some religious organization rather than the Divine Son of God in Whose name we live, and move, and have our being. In the Name of Jesus we seek to follow the Gospel way of life living in society, seeking not to succumb to the spirit of the world. The Spirit of the Lord and example of our Seraphic Father encourage us to be companions on the journey of life with others. The gift we have been called to live, we give as a gift to all who will have it and share it with us. God has entrusted this gift to us with the light of our Faith in Jesus born as a human being yet totally and unequivocally divine. This Faith must shine through us, strengthened by our prayer and good Catholic- Christian-Franciscan example, to a world that has so many other blinding lights and cacophonous sounds to distract, distort, and even destroy the gifts with which we have been endowed by God.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, do we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, Savior…as God? Do we seek Him out in the Temple of our Tabernacles, at the Altars of the Eucharist, in the Wisdom of His Word that we read or hear everyday/week? Have we allowed the heresy of Arius, that denied the divinity of Christ, and that has subtly continued in our society in many ways, to enter our own lives, rendering Jesus and his words relative, optional, a question of majority opinion?

St. Francis’ love for the Eucharist transfixed him when he assisted at Mass. His belief in the Eucharistic Presence was so deep that St. Francis venerated and adored the Blessed Sacrament even when passing the closed door of a Church he knew housed the Blessed Sacrament. Do we recognize the Divine Presence? A tip of the hat, a bow of the head, a simple prayerful aspiration when passing a Catholic or Orthodox Church indicate a habitual living and recognizing the presence of the Savior really present among us in the Eucharist. We are a Eucharistic Community. The Eucharist continues the mystery of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of the Savior, throne of the Mercy of God. It is here that God in Jesus takes on our guilt and expiates for us what we could not do for ourselves without Him. In the Year of Mercy, our Seraphic Father is a profound example of one who leads us to this August Throne of Mercy – the Cross.

We are washed in the Blood of Christ Jesus and bring Him the only possession we have that is not a gift from God – our sins. When we allow them to possess us, we perish; when we let Jesus take over, we are freed and lifted up.

When Jesus is present to us, when the One Whom we are searching out is felt deeply in our hearts, and our lives are lived as though He were there walking, talking, crying, laughing, praying, struggling, etc., with us, then it is that we are becoming more like the spiritual children of our beloved Father St. Francis.

Did you not know where I had to be? Sometimes our searching takes us all over. We run from one place to another; we look for miracles rather trying to enter the mystery. We listen for prophecies rather than seek to be inspired by His Word…hoping to find the One Whom we already possess but as yet have not been able to recognize. The great and awesome God of Creation, hidden within the frail, vulnerable nature of His creation is waiting for us to let His transforming grace lead us forward as heralds of the Great King. God loves us into life that we might know, serve, love and adore Him with our lives.

When we adore Him, we acknowledge Him as Lord and God. Then it is that we take our stand against the hidden heresy of Arianism still alive in our world today. Then it is that we witness to those Christian sisters and brothers who have minimized the importance of the teaching of Christ as the message of God. Then it is that the Eternal One is no longer a pious theory to decipher but a Living Reality Who gives our life meaning and direction. Then it is that we can say with St. Paul: Though he was in the form of God…he emptied himself…and was known to be of human estate…God highly exalted him…So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!

May Jesus, Our Lord and God, bless each and every one of you throughout this year; Our Lady guide, guard and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of us, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.


Peace and Blessings

Happy and Blessed New Year

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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